NJ paper woes continue

The Star-Ledger, the largest newspaper in New Jersey and one the most important in the nation, along The Times of Trenton will be sold or closed by early January if the union representing drivers at the paper does not ratify a new agreement with management by Oct. 8, according to a letter sent to employees from publisher George Arwady that was released Tuesday.

“Although we are making progress toward meeting two of our three conditions, we still are far from an agreement with the Drivers’ union,” wrote Mr. Arwady. “Accordingly, since it is doubtful that the Drivers will ratify an agreement by October 8, 2008, we will be sending formal notices to all employees this week, as required by both federal and New Jersey law, advising you that the Company will be sold, or, failing that, that it will close operations on January 5, 2009.”

Pressures affecting nearly all major newspapers forced the leaders of Advance Publications, which owns the paper, to seek buyouts from 200 of its 700-plus non-union employees, in an effort to cut costs and fix the newspaper finances, which are bleeding millions of dollars annually.

Negotiations with two other unions for agreements required by the ownership for the continued operation of the paper have been somewhat successful, but Tuesday’s communication demonstrates that reaching an agreement with drivers’ union could represent a major threat to the restructuring and the continued operation of the Newark newspaper icon.

A similar program of buyouts has been offered at The Star-Ledger’s sister paper, The Times of Trenton, although the status of that effort is unknown at this point.

Someone familiar with the situation at The Times said that nearly all of the paper’s full-time newsroom employees were prepared to take a buy-out, which is believed to consist of a full year’s salary.

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